12 Top Tourist Attractions in Mérida & Easy Day Trips
Mérida's UNESCO-listed archaeological sites bring to life the fascinating world of classical antiquity. Mérida boasts some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Spain. The town of Emérita Augusta was founded in 25 BC under the rule of Emperor Augustus, when Rome was expanding onto the Iberian Peninsula. With a population of 50,000, the prosperous settlement became the largest Roman outpost in Iberia and the capital of the Lusitania province. The legacy of this rich past is seen in Mérida's abundance of ancient monuments: the Roman Theater, the Amphitheater, the Temple of Diana, and the Casa del Mitreo. Most of the Roman archaeological remains are at the eastern end of the town, and an entry ticket includes combined admission to multiple sites.
1 Teatro Romano
A magnificent ancient monument, the Teatro Romano is the most impressive archaeological site in Mérida and the best conserved Roman theater in Europe. The theater was built by the Roman general Agrippa in 16 BC and rebuilt in the first century AD after a fire during the reign of Hadrian. In its sloped semicircular seating, the theater could accommodate 6,000 spectators. The rear wall of the stage buildings has magnificent sculptural decorations and once had a garden that served as a foyer.
Because the theater is so well preserved and has been beautifully restored, tourists can easily visualize being at an event more than two millennia ago. The theater is still used today for performances of plays, ballets, and concerts. During July and August, the theater becomes a stunning venue for the prestigious Classical Theatre Festival. The festival is dedicated to classical theater of the Greco-Latin tradition, but also includes other dramatic arts and music performances as well as film screenings. Sitting on the old stone benches, attendees experience firsthand the cultural legacy of ancient Greece and Rome.
Address: José Ramón Melida, E-06800 Mérida
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mérida - TripAdvisor.com
2 National Museum of Roman Art
This superb collection of ancient Roman art is opposite the Teatro Romano. Opened in 1986, the National Museum of Roman Art contains a superb collection of Roman antiquities found at the archaeological sites in Mérida. From ancient coins, sculptures, glassware, ceramics, and wall paintings to tombstones, the items on display offer a palpable insight into everyday life during the Roman era. Many of the artworks reveal incredible craftsmanship. Highlights of the collection include a bust of Emperor Augustus carved from Carrara marble, wall paintings from the Roman theater, and an assortment of exquisite floor mosaics. The museum was built on top of archaeological remains, and the basement of the museum features archaeological excavations in progress.
For those seeking accommodation near Mérida's top tourist attractions, the Parador de Mérida is a great choice. Occupying an18th-century convent building, this luxurious historic hotel lies a few blocks away from the National Museum of Roman Art.
Address: Calle José Ramón Mélida, Mérida
3 Anfiteatro Romano
Next to the Roman Theater are the excavated remains of the ancient Roman Amphitheater. Built in 8 BC, this massive stadium packed in 15,000 spectators to watch gladiatorial contests. The amphitheater also staged mock naval battles; the stage area could be flooded with water allowing ships to sail in. Eventually gladiatorial contests were banned, and the amphitheater was dismantled. The ruins reveal the foundations of the structure and give visitors a sense of the original monument's grandeur.
Near the Roman Amphitheater is the Amphitheater House, remains of an ancient Roman villa. This site has several well-preserved rooms decorated with frescoes, paved hallways featuring mosaics, and a beautiful outdoor space with a vine-covered peristyle. The floor mosaic in the dining room is especially impressive. The remains of thermal baths, the original kitchens, and drains can also be seen.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
4 Temple of Diana
This majestic building is the most beautiful of the ancient Roman sites in Mérida. The enormous temple was an important religious building during the Classical period. Standing on an elevated rectangular base, the structure is surrounded by peripteros (columns) with six columns on the facade. The granite columns feature Corinthian capitals typical of the era. Scholars believe that a garden with a pond was found beside the temple. In the 16th century, the temple was converted into a palace for the Duke of Corbos, however the ancient structure is still prominent. The Temple of Diana is at the corner of Calle Romero Leal Sagasta west of the Plaza de España. The temple is open to the public.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
5 Casa del Mitreo: An Exceptional Roman Villa
The exceptionally beautiful Casa del Mitreo was a large Roman villa that belonged to a noble family. Also discovered on the site was a mithraeum (an underground cave used for mystic rites) that was related to the cult of Mithra, explaining the house's name. The Mithraeum House was designed around three lovely peristyles (patio-courtyards with colonnades) that gave the living space a pleasant quality. The house included private living quarters and reception areas, gardens, and thermal baths. Splendid mosaics and frescoes decorate the rooms. The most exquisite mosaic depicts the origin of the world with representations of heaven, earth, and the sea. The Casa del Mitreo is near the Plaza de Toros (Bullring) via the Calle de Oviedo.
Location: Zona Cerro de San Albín, Mérida
6 Circo Romano (Ancient Hippodrome)
Northwest of the amphitheater beyond the railroad, the remains of the Circo Romano are unique in Spain. This ancient Roman hippodrome was used as a venue for chariot races and later for naval games. The circus has a rectangular shape and is divided lengthwise by a raised platform in the middle, originally covered in marble. The arena where the races took place and the seating areas are still easily visible. Upon closer observation, visitors can find the doors known as carceres where competitors entered the circus. Although the site is not overgrown, it is one of the best conserved ancient circuses in existence.
Location: Zona Arqueológica, Mérida
7 Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción
Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, Santa María la Mayor was founded by Alonso de Cárdenas, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago. The church was built on the site of an earlier Visigoth temple and has preserved some elements from the 13th century, although most of the architecture dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. On the relatively unadorned facade, visitors can find a vaulted niche with an image of the Virgin Mary (known as "Our Lady of Guidance"). The interior has three naves divided by square pillars and contains the tombs of Don Alonso de Cárdenas and the Duke and Duchess de la Roca.
Address: Plaza de España, Mérida
8 Basilica de Santa Eulalia
The Basilica of Santa Eulalia was built in the 13th century during the Christian Reconquest of Spain. This venerated historic monument stands on the site of a fourth-century Visigothic basilica (where a Roman temple previously stood). The original basilica was destroyed by the Almohads, the Islamic rulers who had conquered Andalusia and other areas of the Iberian Peninsula during the Moorish period. Exemplifying Romanesque architecture, the Basilica has three naves and a semicircular apse. Around the apse are chapels featuring Visigothic and Gothic architectural details. Beneath the basilica are the remains of ancient Roman houses and an early Christian necropolis.
Address: 13 Avenida Extremadura, Mérida
9 Puente Romano
One of Mérida's most iconic sights, the Roman Bridge provided a strategic link between the ancient city of Emérita Augusta and Tarragona. This ancient Roman bridge was originally built during the reign of Emperor Augustus and was restored over later periods. At 792 meters long, it is one of the largest Roman bridges in Spain. Built from bolstered granite, the bridge spans the Guadiana River with its 60 semicircular arches. The pillars are rounded and were well designed for spill flows when the river's water level is high.
Location: Zona del Puente Sobre el Guadiana
10 Acueducto de los Milagros
This ancient Roman aqueduct brought fresh water to Emérita Augusta from the Prosérpina Reservoir 10 kilometers away. The ancient Roman dam used to create the reservoir from the Abarregas River is still visible. Built from granite and brick, the aqueduct was a massive construction of three stories of semicircular arches, with distribution towers and a tank for water. The ruins represent 37 piers and 10 arches of the original structure that have survived.
Address: Avenida Vía de la Plata, Mérida
11 Alcazaba (Moorish Castle)
The Alcazaba is south of the Plaza de España on the banks of the Guadiana River. This ancient Moorish citadel was built in 855 by enlarging an earlier Roman building, which was later converted into a monastery by the Order of Santiago. The Moors restored the Roman cistern in the basement of the fortress and built a flight of steps down to it by reusing Roman stones and Visigothic pilasters.
Address: Plaza de España, Mérida
12 Arco de Trajano
This impressive ancient Roman triumphal arch is found in the city center a little way north of the Plaza de España at the junction of two streets. The Arch of Trajan reaches 15 meters in height with four rows of columns. It was the northern gate of the Roman town.
Day Trips from Mérida
Badajoz is a charming town on the banks of the Guadiana River, near the Portuguese frontier (six kilometers from Portugal and 43 kilometers from Mérida). Full of Old World ambience, Badajoz offers many delightful surprises such as old ramparts, picturesque cobblestone streets, and interesting historical monuments. In the center of the town is the Plaza de España, where the Catedral de San Juan stands. Built between 1232 and 1284, the cathedral is a fortress-like structure with an imposing tower and a Renaissance facade.
While Badajoz is now Catholic, the city's Islamic legacy of Badajoz is seen in the Alcazaba. This Moorish castle was converted to a Mudéjar-style palace for the Dukes of Fería, now in a public park. Visitors can take in exceptional views from the Alcazaba's 12th-century Torre de Espantaperros, a massive tower built by the Islamic Almohad rulers. Panoramas from the tower extend from the Guadiana River to the rolling hills of the Extremadura region. The Alcazaba also houses an excellent Archaeological Museum with more than 15,000 items found at architectural sites in the area.
About 78 kilometers from Merida, the ancient town of Caceres was founded in the first century AD by the Romans. During the early Middle Ages, Caceres was under Moorish rule like much of the Iberian Peninsula. The Old Town (Ciudad Monumental) of Cáceres stands on a hilltop surrounded by the medieval walls with twelve towers and five gates. Enclosed within these historic ramparts are many old aristocratic mansions such as the 15th-century Palacio de los Golfines Abajo near the cathedral. This palace has a magnificent facade with Gothic, Mudéjar, and Plateresque elements as well as the family's coat of arms. The Plaza de Santa María is worth visiting to see the 16th-century Bishop's Palace (Palacio Episcopal) and the Palacio de Mayoralgo.
UNESCO-listed Monastery in Guadalupe
Filled with cobblestone streets and important monuments, Guadalupe is a quaint little village about 131 kilometers from Merida. The most famous sight is the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de of Guadalupe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Plaza Juan Carlos. The monastery buildings date from the 14th and 18th centuries, and as a result show great diversity of architectural style. A highlight is the monastery's 14th-century church. The interior features a Baroque retablo that was the work of Giraldo de Merló and richly carved choir stalls. Be sure to see the sacristy, sumptuously decorated in Baroque style with ceiling paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán.
Guadalupe is an excellent place to begin a journey through the mountain towns of Las Villuercas. Other noteworthy stopping points are Cañamero, Logrosán, and Berzocana.